On April 30, Ventura Harbor General Manager Oscar F. Peña retired from the position he had held since 1999. Over the course of his two-decade-long career, Peña helped navigate rough waters following the Ventura Port District’s bankruptcy, secured federal funding to keep the harbor operational through regular dredging of the entryway, and oversaw growth in the harbor’s commercial fishing industry.
Peña will stay with the Ventura Port District as the Business Operations Manager through July to assist in the transition. Deputy General Manager Brian Pendleton was appointed new General Manager on April 18.
VCReporter: What would you consider the most important decisions of your tenure?
Peña: The one that’s on the top of minds for everybody, because they’re in construction right now, is leasing to Portside Ventura Harbor, which is a 300-unit apartment and some commercial space and a marina that is located in the northeast harbor area. That was essential in the early 2000s because the District was coming out of bankruptcy and we needed to establish a new source of revenue for the District long term. The other thing we did was refinance all the loans we had. We had about $16 million in debt, some with the Department of Building and Water for improvements to the harbor entrance or some other real estate transactions, so we consolidated the loans with one lender and were able to save quite a bit of money. I think the other thing that was key during my tenure was putting more emphasis on commercial fishing to validate the need for dredging funds for the Ventura Harbor entrance.
What attracted you to the General Manager position in 1999?
I’d been very successful in part because the economy started to improve in the late ’90s when I had a contract with the Port to manage the [Ventura Harbor Village]. I had the opportunity to improve the harbor on a larger scale and develop an economic strategy that was going to improve the viability of the District and harbor. It started with Portside Ventura Harbor, but it continued. I was able to negotiate several ground leases with the Ventura Marina, the Ventura Mobile Home Park, the Ventura Harbor Boat Yard, fuel dock and Yacht Club. With those new leases we were able to generate more revenue than we were previously getting.
What are some of the current challenges that a new general manager should be aware of?
Our current deputy general manager is very well aware that the economic development of the harbor is key. The new fisheries [Ventura Shellfish Enterprise] is a project he’s been focused on, and I think he’s getting closer to making that a reality. I think the future funding for dredging will always be a priority and a challenge, but fortunately he’s been my assistant for the last four years and is very familiar with these challenges.
How will you spend your retirement?
I’ve been very active with the Ventura Visitors and Convention bureau for the past 20 years and with the Chamber of Commerce and really enjoyed that. I’d really like to focus with nonprofit organizations in our community and I feel like I have the skill set that some of these groups could utilize. Obviously I want to spend more time with the family and do some traveling as well.
Staying on as the business operations manager, which is currently an empty position at the port district because of my CalPERS requirements of not being able to become a consultant until after six months, this was an avenue our board felt was certainly one that would be advantageous to both of us. I’m happy I’ll be able to help out for a short period of time and happy to turn a new chapter in my life.